Thursday, June 5, 2014

Modesty is relative -- a dialogue about swimwear

"Modesty is relative."

That's what my daughter said to me tonight trying to see if she could get a rise out of me. She likes to do that now and again.

Well, this would be the perfect time for such a discussion as we try to pack for a trip to visit a different culture, one that has turned from God-fearing to rather hedonistic.

"They all wear bikinis, and I am going to stick out wearing a tankini. Bikinis are culturally modest," she said with a little impish grin.

"Take the bait," I thought to myself, "this could be fun."

Without missing a beat, I said, "Why bother with the bikini at all? If you want to discuss cultural modesty and its relative nature, we could talk about how they think it's perfectly acceptable to go topless on 'family beaches' or completely bare in more restricted locations." 

Oh, the disgust! You would have thought I had made her eat worms.

And, that's the reaction I was hoping for because modesty isn't relative, it's a virtue! Modesty is relational; it hinges on your relationship with the Creator and from there reflects the dignity of the human person as you move into relationships with others.

"When you become an object of temptation for others through a lack of modesty, you show disrespect for your relationship with God as his daughter, and for the person whose soul you put at risk through your immodest behaviors." I told her. "Modesty isn't only about you -- yes, it starts with self respect which is developed by understanding how much God loves you -- but, it is also about how you love your neighbor."

This is reflective of the Two Great Commandments -- Love God and love your neighbor. These two Commandments should be predominant in our thoughts and deeds. Will it honor God; will it honor my neighbor? -- these should be the first questions we ask before we act.

We finally decided to agree that modesty is often the victim of cultural norms; to develop a true sense of modesty, those norms must be subject to the moral judgement of a properly informed conscience. I couldn't be more proud of my daughter for truly understanding this notion, I think even before we entered into this conversation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil. It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking. (CCC 1777)
When the norms of a culture veer from the path of truth and goodness, -- when they flow into an extreme -- in this case, the objectification of women, then our conscience should clearly tell us to avoid the behavior.

A bikini, in and of itself, is not evil, but the temptations that arise as a result of wearing this garment should be considered and, in the interest of wanting what is best for ourselves and our neighbor, avoided for the sake of souls.

And that is how the lesson on modest swimwear played out at our house tonight.

Comments are welcomed and appreciated -- especially on this subject.

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